Darwin and Nietzsche: Part 3: Truth as “Correctness”: Its Relation to “Values”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Artificial intelligence, “designer babies”, cybernetics are all the flowerings of decisions (“choices”) that have been made to the questions posited and the answers which we have decided regarding the “what” and the “how” of “what” human beings are and “how” human beings will be in modern times. To understand the grounds regarding these decisions, it is necessary to understand what philosophy and science have said about what human beings are, and these statements are to be found in the thinking and writings of Charles Darwin and Friedrich Nietzsche. Our decisions or “choices” are ontological/metaphysical decisions; and understanding the answers and the questions which the scientist and the philosopher have given to us will give us answers to what we believe we are and where we believe we are at.

As was said previously, truth is what is essential about knowledge. Nietzsche says: “Truth is the kind of error without which a certain kind of living being could not live” (WP #473).

What are truth and knowledge, knowing and science in Nietzsche? Nietzsche speaks of the “estimation of value” (WP #507), “I believe that such and such is so”, as the essence of truth. This is close to Plato’s definition of truth as “justified true belief” from his Theatetus. In estimations of value are expressed conditions of preservation (survival of the “fittest”) and growth (empowerment) as life-enhancement. All of our Areas of Knowledge and our senses (sense perception as a way of knowing, empiricism) develop only with regard to conditions of preservation and growth. Trust in reason and its categories, in dialectic, the value-estimation of logic, proves only their usefulness for living, proved by experience—not their “truth”, according to Nietzsche. (WP #507) The full section of this passage from Nietzsche (WP #507) should be read. From it, one can understand the grounds for what is called “the pragmatic theory of truth” that is found in the writings of the Americans James, Pierce and Dewey.

Nietzsche constantly writes “truth” in quotation marks. In the history of the West, “truth” is understood as the correctness of representation, and representation means having and bringing before oneself or the bringing to presence of beings/things, a having that perceives and opines, remembers and plans, hopes and rejects. Truth means the assimilation of representing to what things are and how they are. The many positions and definitions of truth that have come to us are all based on this one definition that truth is the correctness of representing. Correctness is being directed toward something, making statements that are ‘fitted’ or ‘suitable’ for the things that are spoken about. In logic the word correctness is “lack of contradiction”, “consistency”. Correctness as consistency means that a statement is deduced from another statement in accordance with the rules of reasoning. Correctness as “free from contradiction” and being “consistent” is called formal “truth”, not related to the content of beings in distinction from the material truth of content. “Correctness” is understood as the translation of the Latin adaequatio and the Greek homoiösis. For Nietzsche, too, truth is understood as correctness.

Nietzsche’s saying that “truth is an illusion” is truth as the correctness of representing. But for Nietzsche truth is an “estimation of value”. The phrase means to appraise something as a value and to posit it as such. “Value” is a perspectival condition for life-enhancement, the “growth” that enables “quality of life”.  Value-estimation is accomplished by life itself, and by human beings in particular. Truth as value-estimation is something that “life” or human being brings about and, thus, belongs to human being. Value-estimation is in the words “I believe that such and such is so”. Values are in the belief.

Knowledge as “justified true belief” means to hold such and such as being this and this. “Belief” does not mean assenting to or accepting something that one oneself has not seen explicitly as a being or can never grasp as in being with one’s own eyes. “To believe” means to hold something that representation encounters as being in such and such a way. Believing is holding for something, holding it as in being. Believing, for Nietzsche, does not mean assent to an incomprehensible doctrine inaccessible to reason but proclaimed as true by an authority, particularly a religious authority, nor does it mean trust in a covenant or prophecy. Truth as value-estimation, as a holding for something as being in this or that way, stands in an essential connection with things as such. What is true is what is held in being as what is taken to be in being. What is true is being.

Truth is synonymous with holding to be true: it is synonymous with judgement. The judgement, an assertion about something, is the essence of knowledge; to it belongs the being-true in the history of Western metaphysics. To hold something for what it is, to represent it as thus and thus in being, to assimilate oneself in representing whatever emerges and is encountered as presence, is the essence of truth as correctness. Nietzsche thinks truth as correctness. Nietzsche appears to be in agreement with Kant who instigated a Copernican revolution in his doctrine of the essence of knowledge in which knowledge is not supposed to conform to objects but the other way around—objects are supposed to conform to knowledge. But how does Nietzsche think the essence of truth differently?

Nietzsche’s insight is that truth as correspondence, correctness is really a “value estimation”. This means that the essence of correctness will not be able to finds its explanation and basis by saying how human being, with representations occurring in his subjective consciousness, can conform to objects that are at hand outside his soul, how the gap between the subject and object can be bridged so that something like a “conforming to” becomes possible.

With truth defined as “estimations of value”, the essential definition of truth is turned in a completely different direction: “In estimations of value are expressed conditions of preservation (survival) and growth.” Here, value is defined 1) as a “condition” for life; 2) that in “life” not only is “preservation” but also and above all “growth” (quality of life) is essential. “Growth” is another name for “enhancement” or “quality of life”. “Growth” is understood as the autonomous development and unfolding of a living being through “empowerment”. “All our organs of knowledge and our senses are developed only with regard to conditions of preservation and growth.” (WP #507) Truth and the grasping of truth are not merely in the service of “life” according to their use and application; their essence, the way in which they are organized and their activity are driven and directed by “life”. Nietzsche is very closely related to Darwin in this thinking. How is this life to be understood?

We can see with our discussion of knowledge and truth that our journey has found its way back to Darwin, the scientist. In our classrooms, Darwinism is not taught as theory but as fact. Nietzsche, like Darwin, equates the basic words “world” and “life” both of which name beings as a whole. Life, the process of life and its course is called bios in Greek: “Bios” as in the word “biography” corresponds to the Greek meaning. “Biology”, on the other hand, means the study of life in the sense of plants and animals. In Nietzsche’s section of The Will to Power entitled “Discipline and Breeding” is the conscious regulation of life; its direction and “quality of life” are a strictly arranged life-plan as a goal and a requirement. The “discipline and breeding” of Nietzsche is similar to Darwin’s analogy of artificial selection in the way farmers choose livestock to the way that nature selects wildlife, including human beings. “Mutation” is seen as “modification”, the random choices of nature. The essential difference between animals and human beings is that human beings have a concept of “world” which they attempt to commandeer and control in order to secure the “self-preservation” and life-enhancement striving to eliminate the element of chance that rules in “natural selection” or “modification”. Now, most “modifications” in nature are done by human beings.

“Survival of the fittest” is not a reference to physical strength which is but one possible element, but refers to what a species is “fitted for” given its modifications and the environment in which it finds itself. This “fittedness” defines what a species is at any given time.

Nietzsche said: “Only that which has no history can be defined”. By this he means that beings/things undergoing “modifications” through the process of Being (life) cannot be considered to “live’ within “horizons” which would delimit their being and make them definable. The essential realm in which biology moves as an Area of Knowledge can never itself be posited and grounded by biology as a science but can only be presupposed, adopted and confirmed through research and experimentation. This is true of every science. Every science rests upon propositions about the area of beings/things with which it operates. These pro-positions about what things are define the things beforehand. This is what is being called metaphysics here. The metaphysics of the sciences are already assumed beforehand. Darwin’s propositions of evolution, modification and natural selection are metaphysical propositions: they are ontological propositions and statements about the “what” and the “how” of beings. Nietzsche’s notorious definition of human being as a “blond beast of prey” which through discipline and breeding comes to secure and dominate its “world” is a next step in the ideas first put forward by Darwin.

The point being made here is that science and reflection in the Areas of Knowledge which the science investigates are historically grounded on the dominance of a particular interpretation of Being (life) and they move within a particular conception of the essence of truth. Nietzsche’s “blond beast of prey” is a metaphysical not a biological conception of human being. From where does this conception of human being arise?


Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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